The Story So Far
The match against FC Dallas marked the halfway point of the 12-match road trip. While it didn’t end the way the Timbers would have hoped, at least they didn’t give up three or more goals. Although they lost 2-1, there was about a 25-minute stretch where the Timbers looked good, but that doesn’t make up for the other 75 minutes of subpar play. So ... they lose their fifth and sit at the bottom of the Western Conference.
The Columbus Crew return home after losing a close one in Montreal, 1-0. Caleb Porter’s team sit second in the East, just one point behind D.C. United, who is averaging 2.86 points a match — though goals have been hard to come by at times for them.
Can the Timbers get the monkey off their back and pick up a result in Cbus, or will the Crew and Caleb Porter pull one over on the reeling Timbers and get the home win?
What to Watch for
Columbus Crew (4-2-1, 13 pts)
The Caleb Porter Columbus Crew look a lot like the Gregg Berhalter Columbus Crew. One would think that when Porter came in, he would have remade the team to his specifications, but he seems to be going with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra. The one problem this team has is scoring goals on a regular basis. They’ve scored seven goals this season so far; Zardes leading the pack with three.
As you may have noticed, Porter has decided to leave Berhalter’s 4-2-3-1 alone for the most part. To be honest, it’s the formation he used during his Portland tenure, but he’s made a few tactical tweaks so that the formation is more fluid in both the attack and the defensive. Look for the Crew to drop Will Trapp in between the center backs to form a temporary back three, which will allow the fullbacks, Francis and Afful, to push up more in the attack. This will also trigger the wings to tuck into the midfield, giving a numerical advantage in the center of the pitch.
Porter has also allowed creative-midfielder Federico Higuain to drop deeper in the midfield to get the ball. This wasn’t seen much in Berhalter’s system, and Higuain was usually the highest midfielder under the former coach. When Higuain attracts attention, this is usually leaving a man unmarked and something the Timbers should be mindful of. They like to hit with the short passes and play down the right side of the pitch.
On the defensive side of the ball, look for the Crew to defend in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-2-2. They’ll only press high on a few occasions, as their roster really isn’t build to do that on a regular basis. But they will counter press when they lose the ball, looking to get it back as soon as possible — though they have to be selective when doing so.
Their real problem right now is creating consistent scoring opportunities. Once they do that, they’ll be a very dangerous team.
Portland Timbers (0-5-1, 1 pt)
Gio Savarese changed things up against Dallas, going with a back five — an obvious attempt at a more defensive shape — and it worked for the most part. Yes, they allowed two goals, but the defenses looked a bit better than in recent weeks in my opinion, though it was just a glimpse. Will Gio come out with another five at the back formation against a strong Columbus Crew?
It’s very possible.
Hopefully we’ll see captain Diego Valeri in the starting lineup, though he is listed as questionable with a lower left leg injury, Also listed as questionable are Marvin Loria (right foot injury) and Andy Polo (right leg injury).
The defense is still this season’s biggest problem, and I don’t know what it’s going to take to change. Whether it’s four or five at the back, there are issues there and, with the way the Crew play, this could be a long night for the Timbers on the defensive side of the ball. If it’s a back four, we’ll see Bill Tuiloma paired with Larrys Mabiala, but Cascante will most likely get a start if they go back and use the five in the back system again.
While I’m ragging on the defense, the offense doesn’t escape scrutiny. The Timbers have scored one less goal than the Crew this season (six), but the Timbers have also allowed 17 to the Crew’s 5. Someone needs to put their shooting boots on Saturday and take charge, because right now it seems that no one is stepping it up. Like the Crew, the Timbers are having problems creating consistent scoring opportunities, so this could be an interesting match, as both offenses have lacked some punch in recent weeks. It’ll come down to the Timbers defense — who could really use a clean sheet to get some confidence back.
The Timbers need to find that spark to start a turnaround, lest the hole they’re in get deeper. While, yes, there is a long home-stand after this miserable road trip is over, you have to ask: Will it be enough to get the Timbers to the playoffs?
Columbus have seen more than 2.5 goals in their last six matches against Portland in all competitions.
Portland have been losing at both half time and full time in five of their last seven away matches (Major League Soccer).
Saturday’s match marks the 11th meeting all-time, including playoffs, between Portland and Columbus, which includes a 2-1 win on the road at Columbus in the 2015 MLS Cup Final. The Timbers lead the all-time series with a record of 5-3-2. Portland won the last meeting between the two sides at Providence Park on Sept. 19, 2018, registering a 3-2 win. The Timbers have scored multiple goals in each of their last six matches across all competitions against Crew SC.
Columbus have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven home matches (Major League Soccer).
Referee: Christopher Penso
Assistant Referees: Kathryn Nesbitt, Kyle Longville
4th Official: Lorant Varga, VAR: Chico Grajeda